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Speaking for Those With Obsidian Tongues

Time passes slowly for those made of stone. Each day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. At least that's what they tell us.
Donal rushes into the tent where I'm eating cold oats and slides his tablet across my makeshift-table crate. "Just got the geophysics for the new site. It's promising. A previous survey found runes in the caldera, and the locals have multiple supernatural legends regarding the volcano. I think it could be Eldritch."
I don't like to raise anyone's hopes, but I can't hide my anticipation as I shovel the final spoonfuls of breakfast into my mouth. "Only one way to know for sure."
We set up our theodolites and stakes and stretch our surveying tape to form grids. Our picks bite striations into layers of rock. Bit by bit, we search the stone.
A shout gathers us to one corner of the trench, to huddle over Aiden's shoulder as he brushes dirt from an outstretched hand.
We dig them out as gently as we know how, careful not to chip a finger or break a nose with the scraping of our trowels and spades. We pry them from beneath the rubble, separating living stone from insensate rock.
It's only when we lift them onto a tarp so that no piece of their body touches the cursed slope that they sit up, gasping. They are alive. And fearful. Their breath crackles in their pebbled lungs, and every movement of their heavy body strains against their new, strange form. Their petrified tongue and lips make it difficult to speak intelligibly.
Nola is the most fluent in long-dead languages, so she kneels and tells the story as best we've come to understand it. Of the powerful sleeping Beings that dwelt in fiery mountains and their wrath that turned men to stone. Of our accidental discovery and how we now seek out victims to free them.
Of the empires, rising and falling, between.
We give them a tent for privacy and some provisions, but they always leave the food and drink untouched. Maybe tongues of obsidian don't care for oats and coffee. Maybe stomachs of basalt don't yearn to be filled.
The next morning, I wake before the sun and peel my tent flap open. I hug my knees and watch the path that leads out of camp. A figure emerges, heavy with a stone body that's still unfamiliar and cumbersome. They lumber past the shovels and trenches and disappear over the horizon.
They never stay long. As they leave, they never look back. It's a fact we've come to accept, along with all our unanswered questions. Early on, we'd follow until the heavy footprints disappeared into the sea or faded across the wind-swept desert, but now, we've abandoned the presumption that they'd be happier remaining with us.
It's the finding that's important, as Donal says. After all, they aren't dried bones to measure and label and sort in trays, to photograph and study and pack in polythene. They aren't artifacts to catalogue and keep. Their story's end is theirs alone.
I pray for their peace and protection.
I pray that we're doing the right thing.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 9th, 2022
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